CWA Demands General Electric Use Expertise and Excess Capacity to Manufacture Ventilators In-House to Help Address COVID-19 Pandemic

Monday, March 30, 2020

In the wake of layoff announcement, Union leaders and public health expert to urge General Electric to convert factories to ventilator work;

Union Insists on Enhanced Health Measures to Protect Union Members Doing Essential Work;

Members of IUE-CWA Local 81201 march six feet apart at Lynn, Mass. Aviation Facility and General Electric HQ in Boston with signs reading, "GE Protect Our Lives, Protect America"

WASHINGTON – Union leaders from manufacturing and healthcare are calling on General Electric (GE) to use its highly-skilled workforce and unused manufacturing capacity to make much needed ventilators in-house to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. Simultaneously, members of IUE-CWA Local 81201 this morning marched six feet apart at GE’s Lynn, Mass., Aviation facility and GE’s national headquarters in Boston to appeal to the company to protect workers and save lives.

Full audio of the media call, including Q&A, as well as photos and videos of the actions in Massachusetts, are available upon request.

The press call and Massachusetts protests come after GE last week announced massive layoffs of GE’s aviation workforce across the country. These union members have the skills required to make the ventilators that states desperately need. The union issued a set of demands, and speakers urged the company to leverage the experience of its GE Healthcare division to use its own manufacturing capacity to address the ventilator shortage crisis.

“The crisis we face with the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. It requires us – all of us – to work for the common good and save lives,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “But at a time when our country is depending on skilled workers to make essential products like ventilators, our members are left wondering why they are facing layoffs instead of having the opportunity to use their skills to help save lives. We challenge GE to partner with our members and the management of its own Aviation and Electronic Lighting divisions to convert some of its unused capacity to alleviate our critical national shortage of life-saving ventilators.”

“IUE-CWA has represented frontline workers at GE for several decades, workers who have manufactured some of the nation’s most innovative products,” said Carl Kennebrew, President, IUE-CWA. “We know that the highly-trained workforce at GE, regardless of their current division, is capable of stepping up to support the needs of the American people during this global pandemic and produce desperately needed ventilators. That’s why we’re calling on GE to put these men and women to work and manufacture the ventilators necessary to save lives.”  

Ventilators are desperately needed in states across the country, including New York, California, Washington, and Florida. GE is one of the nation’s leading producers of ventilators, through the company’s health care division. However, GE has chosen to partner with outside corporations to help transfer the needed technology as well as their experience and their knowledge of the supply chain to source ventilator parts for new production.

IUE-CWA GE Conference Board Chairman Jerry Carney detailed the locations and capacity available at underutilized and closed GE facilities across the country. “As someone who has worked closely with GE workers, and knows what they are capable of achieving, we’re calling on the company to expand its services across divisions and generate ventilators,” Carney said. “This global pandemic has already sacrificed thousands of lives, and we don’t need to lose more family members and friends when there are highly-skilled workers who can help produce life-saving products. In our time of need, GE, please call on these hard-working Americans to help manufacture ventilators and provide doctors and nurses with the tools necessary to save lives.”

CWA President Shelton and IUE-CWA President Carl Kennebrew sent letters to U.S. Senators representing Texas, Virginia, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio on Monday, urging them to support efforts to get GE to begin manufacturing ventilators and initiate enhanced policies to protect workers in essential facilities. GE currently has capacity and workers with the skill set necessary to build ventilators in Dallas, Texas; Salem, Va.; Arkansas City, Kans.; Madisonville, Ky.; Lynn, Mass.; Schenectady, N.Y.; Bucyrus, Ohio; and Cleveland, Ohio, but GE has announced either a closing or a layoff in a number of these locations.

In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the union leaders called on GE to initiate enhanced health policies to protect union members who continue to work in production facilities deemed essential. GE currently has a patchwork of policies at their individual locations, some of which may be warranted to align with different workplaces, but it is critical that GE meets with union leadership and outside industrial health specialists on both the national and local levels.

“It’s unfathomable that more than 350 GE workers from Arkansas City, Kans., who have the extremely technical job of repairing jet engines, have been put on layoff because of a temporary lack of work,” said Jake Aguanaga, IUE-CWA Local 86004 President in Kansas. “GE is a company built on innovation. In this time of crisis, GE should be innovative in the use of its workforce and take its highly-skilled and capable workforce like our members in Arkansas City, Kans., to build ventilators and meet the demands of a hurting nation.”

We are in an absolute crisis. Because of supply shortages, front line healthcare workers like me and the members of my local union cannot follow CDC safety guidelines for protective equipment,” said Denise Abbott, Registered Nurse and Director of Health and Safety a CWA Local 1168 in western New York. “As IUE-CWA members have told us, other essential workers also do not have the equipment and procedures in place to protect their health on the job. Preventing the spread of this virus is urgent, and the alarm that my union brothers and sisters are raising must be heard – and acted upon – by every employer. We fully support the demand that GE use its expertise, its excess production capacity and skilled workforce to get more ventilators into the pipeline immediately. We are desperate. Lives are at stake.”

“As doctors and nurses see cases of COVID-19 continue to spike and fight to save lives, states all across the country have made cries for additional ventilators, including my home state of Illinois,” said Dr. Peter Orris, Occupational and Environmental Medicine Expert. “As a physician, I am grateful to the companies who have stepped up and offered to pitch in their services to help build the ventilators that will save lives from this deadly pandemic. GE has already taken some steps to do so, but at a time when the demand for ventilators is reaching its peak, and highly-trained workers are willing to help, it’s time to put their skills to use.”

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CONTACT: Josh Levitt, josh.levitt@berlinrosen.com; 845-641-3654